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Are Our Expectations Holding Us Back from True Happiness?

By Ashley Reichel, Holistic Health Coach

What comes to mind when you think of the word expectations? When I think of expectations my mind immediately runs to somewhere in my past, a time when expectation equaled success, structure, and some sort of achievement. Growing up I think most of us at some point were told we must hold ourselves and others to high expectations, and that if we didn’t, we would never reach our true potentials, we wouldn’t have goals to meet, and we most certainly wouldn’t amount to any sort of “greatness.” Very few of us who were caught up in this mentality sat back to question our happiness outside of these standards, and if living up to our highest expectations really did bring us the joy that said “achievement” should render. Very few of us considered that perhaps there are other paths, and that our happiness shouldn’t be measured by someone else’s standard of success.

Quite recently I recall standing in my kitchen shoulders tense, chest heavy, and with a dull pain residing in what felt like most of my head space. I had had “a day.” Things hadn’t gone as planned, I didn’t get done what I had set out to do, I had wasted time, I felt tearful and a little weak, and in that moment all I could feel was a sense of failure. I felt disappointed that things hadn’t gone as planned at work or at home, and what else could that mean but that I was failing…failing at life! Ok, a bit dramatic but these are the types of experiences we hold on to and frame our lives by. If we can’t do things perfectly then we have failed. Living in such a way actually holds us back, and can ruin the good experiences that are still happening around us, even in our less than perfect moments.

Looking back on the day I described above I mostly remember the overwhelming negativity and anxiety, but having a fresh prospective I am angered that I let the high expectations that I too often put on myself steal the joy that is in my life. The joy that isn’t wrapped up in how well I performed as an employee or as a mother…the joys that come with imperfection! To the perfectionist, the over achiever, the planner, the person we think we need to be listen up; imperfect is the new perfect, and living without expectation just may be the key to finding true happiness!

I often look at my small children with their messy hair, their sticky smiles, and crazy adorable giggles and think man I wish I could be a kid again. They don’t care what people think of them yet, they don’t have long lists of what they need to get done, and despite typical tantrums and moods they live their little lives pretty happily! There is pure joy present in their lives, and I am pretty convinced it comes with the innocence of not having yet experienced expectation! All this poses the question: what if we approached life with the same child-like freedom without the experience and expectation? Are in fact our expectations holding us back from feeling truly happy?

Don’t get me wrong, I do feel that holding some sort of expectation has its place, but if we hold it too high and too firm, we can in turn derail our true paths and ruin our experiences. My solution; meet yourself where you’re at. Hold space for learning, living, and growing, and be flexible with yourself. If we can’t live in the moment and enjoy what is in front of us because we are too hung up on perfection will we ever really be happy? It’s ok to be ok with imperfection allow yourself the room to grow and expand without limitation without expectation and let the happiness that comes with the unexpected flow!

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